Beginning as a pioneering stainless steel cutlery brand, the Robert Welch brand now boasts stunning collections for almost every room in the house. From beautiful tableware and decorative finishing touches to kitchenware, bathroom fittings and accessories, this iconic name in British design creates collections that stand the test of time. We speak to Alice Welch, daughter of the celebrated designer who gave his name to the company about the heritage of this design range.
Q: Did you always know that you wanted to join the family business?
A: My father encouraged us to go our own way in life, but my brother, Rupert, and I always shared his passion for design excellence and it was inevitable that we would want to work with him and to help build on his success. We joined the company in the early 1990s and were determined to see our father’s designs manufactured under his own name. We are delighted that this is now the case.
Today we manage Robert Welch Designs from the top floor of the same 200 year old silk mill here in Chipping Campden where our father established his studio and workshop over 60 years ago. His philosophy was always to design highly functional, affordable products which possessed a timeless elegant beauty and this philosophy remains at the heart of the modern company.
Q: Was design always a big part of your life?
A: Design was a part of every day when Rupert and I were little, Dad used to bring prototypes home for us to test and review; you never knew what was going to appear next! One of my favourite memories is of the prototype Canterbury Cathedral altar cross and candlesticks standing on our dining table!
Q: Why do you think original Robert Welch designs are so enduring?
A: Timeless design is central to the whole Robert Welch story, meaning that our customers own cutlery and homeware that will never go out of fashion. Timeless design goes beyond aesthetic qualities: all of our designs must offer outstanding performance and durability.
Some of my father’s most notable designs are on display at the Victoria & Albert Museum and the British Museum, London; the Applied Art Museum, Copenhagen; the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam and the Museum of Modern Art in New York which speaks volumes for their recognition as classic designs.
Q: How would you describe the Robert Welch look?
A: Contemporary design with classic references. Many of our designs sit as well in a traditional setting as in a contemporary one, complementing their surroundings rather than competing with them. Depending on how our customers choose to use or display our designs, they can be a central feature or a subtle accent.
Q: Where do the inspirations come from?
A: Design can sometimes be the outcome of accidental effect, but more often than not, inspiration comes from our natural surroundings or our extensive archive. My father kept an archive from a very early stage in his career. Over time this grew into an invaluable assortment of documents and objects detailing every aspect of his design process and, as with every archive, plenty of unexpected and surprising details. Most recently, having digitised some of Dad’s glass negatives, we discovered an image of a silver bracelet that he designed for a lady who commissioned a ‘secret ashtray’!
Q: What do you think makes a good design?
A: Our design ethos, first set out by my father, is what we’re known for; that all designs should marry form and function to create beautiful items that are a joy to use. This is much easier said than done and some of our designs can take years rather than months to develop to the point where we feel they are ready to be introduced to our collections.
Q: Do you have a particular collection that you consider to be a favourite?
A: The Limbrey collection which has a distinct Mid Century look, is a particular favourite. It is named after the silversmith John Limbrey who worked with my father for over 40 years at the Old Silk Mill here in Chipping Campden.
Q: Which other designers do you admire?
A: I am drawn to the Scandinavian aesthetic which was a great source of inspiration to my father’s early designs. I have three safari chairs by Mogens Koch in my office which were bought in the early 1960s by my father – this 1932 design is strikingly contemporary and still used every day!
Q: How would you describe your own style?
A: I like to mix the very old and the new, which is something my family did when I was growing up. We lived in a very modern house in Stratford-upon-Avon: it was all glass, teak floors and ceilings and underfloor heating - which was really out-there then. My parents always mixed that modernism with antiques and it worked well.
Q: What do you love to use when you are decorating a room? Particular colours, prints etc?
A: I’m not afraid to mix colours and materials as well as design eras. It’s not unusual to see the Mid Century next to the medieval in my house! My father was a talented artist and I have several of his original canvases as well.
Q: What do you like about working with Houseology?
A: As a design house, we appreciate the attention to detail and eye for interior design that the team bring to curating the site. It feels like a lot of care has gone into selecting the product ranges and designs.